As I See It
Mone: Rags to riches? Or Smoke and mirrors?
Michelle Mone, businesswoman, celebrity, author, public speaker, honoured by the Queen, about to become a member of the Lords, and now government adviser. Rags to riches? Or is this more a case of smoke and mirrors?
Ms Mone is arguably the most famous businesswoman in Britain. She’s not far off being the most famous in the world. She tours extensively, delivering speeches aimed at inspiring those who attend. The response she receives, both to these talks and to her recently published book, borders on the fanatical.
Surely, therefore, she is the perfect advocate for a government looking to encourage others from low income backgrounds to emulate Ms Mone’s rise from Glasgow’s east end to penthouse apartment overlooking London’s Tower Bridge?
Unfortunately, the story is not quite the one that she likes to tell. Ms Mone has done well, make no mistake, leaving school at 15 and setting up in business against some difficult odds.
But even among her supporters are those who wonder how she comes to be worth in excess of £20 million and who has earned the status of business guru on the back of one company which came close to going under and a couple of others still in their infancy.
MJM International, the company that produced the Ultimo lingerie range struggled to make a decent profit and had liabilities of £287,168 in its last trading year before it was wound up.
The accounts revealed that Mone had to pump some of her own cash into MJM in the form of a £40,915 loan.
She latterly defended the Ultimo brand, now part of a different business which she sold to a Sri Lankan firm. She said the company, in which she retains a 20% stake, was still expanding around the world.
Even so, the trading record of her businesses continues to perplex many observers. Before its latest difficulties, MJM was bailed out via a loan from her friend and mentor Sir Tom Hunter. She now runs a fake tanning company and diet pill business.
She has also made some conversions that some say are suited more to convenience than loyalty. In a 2010 profile, Mone was described as growing up “a Scottish Labour voting Protestant and is now a Conservative voting Catholic.”
More concerning are the tribunal hearings with disgruntled staff and public spats with high profile figures, including the singer Rod Stewart who famously called her a “manipulative cow” after she sacked his current partner Penny Lancaster in favour of his ex-wife Rachel Hunter to model the Ultimo range.
She claims a devotion to Scotland but attracts venomous abuse from sections of the nationalist community with whom she has engaged in numerous social media exchanges.
Her regular appearances on the BBC TV show The Apprentice helped secure her a place as a national celebrity and appeared to be good enough reason by itself for her opinions to be sought.
Through it all she has maintained a following from those who feel inspired by her life and has clearly won the backing of government at the highest level. She received an OBE in 2009 “for services to business” and is expected to join the House of Lords as a Tory peer.
Her tour of Britain’s deprived areas starts now and in 10 months time we will learn if she has discovered the secret of how to unlock the entrepreneurial spirit among the country’s downtrodden communities.
Like her book, her report will be a best-seller, not least because she is Britain’s best self-publicist. For it to be a worthwhile read it needs to tells us a lot more than we already know.
Michelle Mone’s progess can be followed on Twitter via #BeTheBoss